New Ways to Profit from Content, Part 2: Partners and Platforms
by Adam Salomone and Bruce Shaw
In the first article in this series (January), we reported that our program for content repackaging and reuse in the digital age is establishing new and robust revenue streams for both print and digital products, and that it’s also establishing brand platforms.
Recapping briefly, the four primary areas of content use that we’re focusing on are:
• individual Web sites
• third-party distribution partnerships
• proprietary content platforms
We’ve been setting up individual Web sites for our books and authors that let consumers interact with them as standalone brands. Both the site for our Not Your Mother’s® brand cookbooks (notyourmotherscookbooks.com) and the site for our Joy of Pregnancy book within the pregnancy vertical (thejoyofpregnancy.com) have aroused significant interest. Each of these online platforms allows authors to blog and engage with consumers, answer questions, share information, and further build their following.
We’ve also been exploring ways to chunk our books and sell small pieces by themselves or as parts of books configured from chunks. Our cookbook vertical is full of opportunities for such content manipulation, given the ease with which recipes can be pulled out and put together.
With the emergence of online companies such as BookRiff (bookriff.com), which allows for this sort of chunking of books by consumers, publishers have unprecedented access to new revenue streams that will be rewarding if they devote the necessary resources and do the necessary planning.
Third-party distribution partnerships and proprietary content platforms can be rewarding too, we’ve found.
As the depth and reach of content on the Internet expand, publishers have more and more ways to distribute curated content for marketing purposes and through licensing.
Working with Kindred Companies
At The Harvard Common Press, we’ve made several investments in online companies that are emerging in our primary areas of focus (food/cooking and pregnancy/childbirth). For example, we have partnered with Yummly, a recipe Web site, and with The BabyCD, a digital information resource for expectant mothers.
Yummly is an intelligent recipe search engine that learns users’ taste preferences as they use the site. Each user is encouraged to build a profile, browse for recipes, and connect with TasteBuds (i.e., friends), and all this activity informs the recipe recommendations Yummly provides for that user.
The site currently aggregates approximately 500,000 recipes—pulled from publicly available databases, such as AllRecipes, Recipezaar, and others—that are free to users. Initially we tied in with Yummly thinking that it would provide a great marketing vehicle. After exploring the platform, though, we quickly realized that Yummly offers much more than free recipe search. It can also serve as an avenue for monetizing content outside our books because it has a pay-for-individual-recipes feature (which is similar to iTunes), a subscription service, and an ad-supported option.
While we are still in the exploratory phase of a monetization scheme for individual recipes, we already feel strongly that this is not solely a Harvard Common Press opportunity. During the past six months, we have been talking with other cookbook publishers to gauge interest in a single recipe monetization platform. We think an endeavor such as this requires collaboration among many companies that publish content about food, including magazine and newspaper publishers.
The BabyCD (thebabycd.com/website), a partner in the pregnancy/childbirth vertical, produces a CD that is given to doctors, who in turn give it to expectant mothers at the point of confirmed pregnancy. The CD acts as a digital information resource, replacing the traditional “gift bag” filled with samples, coupons, and information that is more costly for a practice to put together.
We see the CD as an avenue for offering excerpts from our relevant books, with each excerpt providing a link back to our site and a way for moms to buy books from us. We’ve also used the CD to give away digital copies of our recently released Joy of Pregnancy. With planned distribution to more than a million moms, it constitutes a huge opportunity to drive awareness of our brand and increase consumer interest in our books within a target market.
Factors to Consider
If you’re interested in partnerships of this sort, proceed carefully.
First, ask yourself some questions. The most important one is: “What’s my goal for this partnership?” Do you want to build an author or a book brand via third parties? Or license content? Or sell more books? Or develop new ancillary revenue channels? These goals are not mutually exclusive, of course, but it’s crucial to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Then identify the core vertical content areas you want to focus on. This may be easiest for how-to, lifestyle, and other nonfiction publishers, but publishers of every sort can probably find beneficial partnerships in a range of areas.
Next, consider whether you want to focus on a digital distribution deal, or a deal with an established brick-and-mortar brand. Although both Yummly and The BabyCD are digital companies, we also have a very lucrative content licensing arrangement for our bestselling pregnancy/childbirth title with a large brick-and-mortar brand, one that’s been in place for almost 20 years and continues to thrive today.
Forming any partnership takes patience and time. We have discovered that identifying prospective partners and determining whether they’re right for us involve:
staying on top of the industries we are focusing on—not just publishing, but, in the examples here, the larger food and childbirth worlds
going to trade shows—again, within the wider culinary and baby worlds (it was at a trade show years ago that we met with the founder of BabyCD and crafted a partnership plan)
networking with colleagues through numerous industries (we met the founder of Yummly through a mutual friend, and the partnership stemmed from that initial introduction)
Opportunities arise in unexpected ways, but flexible publishers who have resources in place and have done some planning will be equipped to capitalize on them.
Building Platforms for Distribution Online
Proprietary content platforms constitute the most complex option we’ve explored for reusing content in the digital age, but also the one with the greatest potential to increase revenues and help us develop from being book publishers to being content producers, which is how we ultimately need to see ourselves.
Using a proprietary content platform model means, in essence, becoming a producer (or publisher) of Web sites in specific content areas. The Harvard Common Press has embarked on several paths to achieve this within both of our verticals, but again, the stage we’re at is exploratory.
We are working on a Web site that will be a pregnancy/parenting content platform, tentatively named My Baby Network, MBN for short. The idea is to use content from all our childbirth/pregnancy books to populate a site for expectant and new mothers.
Instead of trying to do this alone, we partnered with two complementary companies so we could each leverage the others’ content, site traffic, and social media presence to drive traffic to the MBN platform. Our intent is to bring on more partners as the site grows, much as Everyday Health has done in the health/lifestyle arena. By creating a network of reputable and highly recognizable brands, we hope to build the go-to pregnancy/parenting resource. At this point, the site is on hold for various reasons, but it continues to be an area full of potential.
On the cooking/food side, we’re exploring a similar arrangement with a series of highly focused Web sites. Again, the idea is to take the content from our books—cookbooks in this case—and use it on a new site built as a distribution point. All the participating companies’ sites are to be linked to each other, including, of course, the main Harvard Common Press site.
The revenue mix from such a proprietary platform can include proceeds from book sales, ad sales, membership charges, licensing arrangements, and more.
Assess in Advance
It’s important to know beforehand what the primary revenue drivers will be and whether you have the resources to handle fulfillment for new revenue channels.
Proprietary content platforms are rich in potential but likely to divert needed resources from other areas. Conceivably, it would make sense to create a separate department to handle them. While this is risky in some respects, it would help get people within the company thinking of content and publishing in different ways, which could have a positive and transformative effect.
In any event, you’ll probably need partners here (possibly other publishers in your field) who can supply additional content streams, and partners who can handle or help with Web site implementation. (If you’re considering deploying a number of Web sites at once, it’s useful to have an outside company that can do the work relatively cheaply, iterate quickly, and provide several templates that work across multiple sites.) Other areas partners might cover include ad sales and Web traffic management.
Although we value the benefits of keeping key functions in-house, building proprietary content platforms involves many potential pitfalls, and for publishers that have never tried wide-scale distribution online, the risks of going solo can outweigh the benefits. Finding the right partners allows you to share the risks and maybe move more quickly on implementation.
Looking at the four key areas that we’ve developed at The Harvard Common Press for content distribution and monetization, we see time and again that profiting from opportunity requires proper planning and resources, and that the primary goal should always be bringing more money into the business.
If what you’re exploring doesn’t seem likely to bring dollars through the door, proceed with care, remembering that there are many new digital avenues to explore. Of course, a certain level of risk can be healthy in identifying new venues for publishing success, but it’s obviously important to balance likely risk with likely rewards.
Bruce Shaw and Adam Salomone are with The Harvard Common Press, a Boston-based publisher of cookbooks and books on pregnancy/childbirth founded in 1976 in Harvard, MA. Bruce Shaw has been the president and publisher for more than 30 years. Adam Salomone joined the firm more than three years ago and is currently the director of digital initiatives. To learn more, visit harvardcommonpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.